Ballot Question to Overturn Citizens United with Constitutional Amendment

Hellz yes. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

In 2010, the Supreme Court decimated a century of legal precedent in campaign finance with a single ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling solidified a constitutional right to free speech for corporations and in doing so opened our elections to a floodgate of special interest money funneled through the now infamous ‘Super-PACs.’ Despite the Supreme Court’s assurance that such a decision would not lead to corruption, we know otherwise. Forced to solicit ever more funds to win election, our state and federal legislators are bought by the highest bidder before they even enter office.

But if corporate America and big-moneyed interests think that the American people are going to sit around silently as our policy making becomes even more beholden to those who can write the largest check, they have another thing coming. Since Citizens United citizens groups have sprung up all over the country calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling. 65 cities and towns in Massachusetts have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment. New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Montana, and Hawaii have all passed similar resolutions. The Massachusetts state legislature is geared to pass a resolution later this session (S.772). 22 State Attorney Generals cosigned a brief in support of Montana’s continued ban on corporate money in elections (See American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock).

Together with Move to Amend, the Coffee Party, MoveOn, and others, Common Cause Massachusetts is spearheading a ballot question campaign to demonstrate the overwhelming support for a Constitutional amendment in Massachusetts. If we collect enough signatures to put the question on the 2012 ballot, millions of Massachusetts voters can vote YES in support of a Constitutional amendment.

Please join us in our signature collection effort. The July 3 deadline is quickly approaching and we need a last minute push to get this question on the ballot.

This Sunday June 17 and next Saturday June 23 we 5 locations set up for signature collection throughout the Boston area (locations in other regions TBA next week). Volunteers are to meet at the below listed locations on both dates at 10am. Materials and a brief on-site training will be provided.

Enacting a Constitutional amendment will not be easy. But if we all work together we can make it a reality. I look forward to working with you to make sure Massachusetts’s voice is heard.

For more information: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=8089549 or contact Common Cause State Field Director Tyler Creighton at 617-426-9600.

Sunday June 17 and Saturday June 23 at 10am:

Brookline: Brookline High School, 115 Greenough St.

Cambridge: Trader Joe’s, 727 Memorial Drive

South Boston: Broadway Stop and Shop, 713 East Broadway

South End: Blackstone Square, intersection of Shawmut Ave and W. Newton St.

Jamaica Plain: J.P.Licks, 659 Centre St.

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Discuss

12 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Sounds good, but only if...

    Union money is also barred.

    • Reign in election spending regardless of speaker

      Our vision for a Constitutional amendment includes provisions that would reign in election spending regardless of speaker, including unions. We disagree with the Court’s declaration that unlimited spending in elections is “not corrupting, or give the appearance of corruption.” Campaign finance regulation needs to be put in place that limits the ability of one speaker, or several speakers, from drowning at the voices of everybody else.

      Ultimately, Common Cause advocates for public financing of elections, but acknowledge that other regulatory steps need to be taken before arriving at that goal.

  2. What is the proposed amendment?

    The text of the amendment is not disclosed in the linked page. Thanks

    • Language to come from the conversation

      I think most people on this page agree that Citizens United dealt a devastating blow to campaign finance regulation and therefore to democratic decision making. However, we seem to disagree on the approach to be taken.

      Common Cause, along with many other organizations (http://united4thepeople.org/orgs.html), have taken the position that a Constitutional amendment is necessary to definitely affirm that the Constitution protects the rights of human beings, not corporations, and that campaign finance regulation is necessary to level the playing field for truly democratic processes. The exact wording of such an amendment to accomplish such goals is at this moment undefined. Proposals have been put forth (Free Speech for People’s People’s Rights Amendment, http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/7003/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=5624; Professor Lawrence Lessig calls for a public finance amendment), but at this point getting hung up on the exact language only stifles a budding movement that needs space to grow.

      As some commentators correctly noted, enormous legislative support is needed for a Constitutional amendment. That means enormous public support is also needed. We must first explain to the people that a Constitutional amendment to the effect explained above is necessary and then from there arrive at the exact wording through the conversation that will follow.

      The ballot question seeks to build public and legislative support for a Constitutional amendment movement and jump start the much needed conversation around transnational corporations and wealthy individuals bankrolling our elections and corrupting our policymaking. I urge you to reconsider your apprehensions and join a movement which could define American politics in the 21st century.

      Ballot question language:

      Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming that (1) corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, and (2) both Congress and the States may place limits on political contributions and political spending?

      • I fear you have the cart before the horse

        I understand and share your desire to reverse or refine Citizens United. I also understand and share your perception that “bottom-up” movement is an attractive strategy for accomplishing this.

        Having said that, in my view the proposed ballot question is premature. I think the first step is to define a contemplated solution (for example, the text of a proposed constitutional amendment). I think the ballot questions come after that first step.

        • Risk of alienation

          By strictly defining the language of an amendment at such an early stage you risk alienating individuals that disagree with your exact wording but otherwise share your goal. I strongly believe we need to build a base and then form the language.

          Numerous debates between Free Speech for People’s Jeff Clements and Rootstriker’s Lawrence Lessig over the Peoples Rights Amendment and Public Financing Amendment illustrate this point exactly. Despite the fact that Jeff and Lawrence are in 99% agreement, a dispute over exact wording puts them at odds and threatens to split the ‘take back democracy’ movement before it even gets off the ground.

          • Mistake

            The first question that most people will ask: what is the text of your amendment? If your answer is “we don’t know” it makes the whole enterprise look silly.

            An amendment that strips corporations and associations of all speech and due process rights would be a colossal error. Do you really intend to strip first amendment protections from newspapers?

            • Two points

              1. We do not have to answer ‘we don’t know.’ The ballot question clearly explains that we instruct our state legislators to support a Constitutional amendment that affirms (1) corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, (2) the federal and state governments can place limitations on political spending (i.e. contributions and expenditures).

              While that is far from committing to specific amendment language, it is also far from ‘we don’t know.’ The non-silliness of our enterprise is demonstrated by the fact that signatures have been collected to put this question on the ballot in just under half the state.

              2. Nobody said anything about stripping First Amendment rights for associations or press. These rights are clearly enunciated by the First Amendment. On the other hand constitutional rights for corporations are not enunciated (A corporation is not a mere association as it only exists by state statute). Quotes from just about every Founder indicate that the Constitution was not intended to protect corporations. Jurisprudence until the last 30 years has followed this intent.

              This does not mean that a corporation is not entitled to any rights at all, only that those rights are not protected by the Constitution. The rights of a corporation are to be enshrined in the state charter that brings the corporation into existence. It is up to the state legislature, and by extension the people, to determine what those rights are.

  3. Why not call for a constitutional convention?

    I don’t understand this proposal at all. Getting a constitutional amendment passed by Congress requires a two-thirds vote of both houses, to which I can only say “Good luck with that”. But, amendments can also be proposed by a constitutional convention, which Congress must call “on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States”. If we’re going to ask state legislators to take action towards the enactment of an amendment to reverse Citizens United, that action should in my opinion be to call for a constitutional convention for that purpose. A constitutional convention under Article V has never happened, but the threat of one has been enough in the past to prod a recalcitrant Congress into proposing an amendment themselves; this happened with the 17th Amendment that provided for the direct election of US Senators.

    • A good point.

      The likelihood of any anti-Citizens United proposal (or any other proposal, for that matter) getting 2/3 of both houses of Congress seems to be zero. A con-con would certainly be dramatic, but especially if it could be restricted to a particular subject such as campaign finance, it would be well worth considering.

      • I think a Con-Con is a bad idea

        I’m not sure there is any way to limit the scope of a constitutional convention. I fear that convening a constitutional convention might well create a monster, given the essentially unlimited funding of the right wing and their control of the media.

        Reversing Citizens United is important. It is also a thorny legal and constitutional issue. I note, as daves has observed above, that the proponents of this ballot question do not offer the text of any proposed amendment. In my view, this is an issue where the “cure” might be far worse than the disease.

        The first step towards reversing Citizens United must be a specific proposed amendment. Until then, this strikes me as a pointless exercise.

        • "convening a constitutional convention might well create a monster"

          That’s always been my worry as well. But, as far as I know, there are no rules for what a con-con may or may not consist of, so I don’t see why Massachusetts couldn’t call for a con-con limited to a specific issue, or even a specific proposal, but refuse to call for a broader convention.

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Wed 30 Jul 3:14 PM